Keyword strategy in B2B SEO is downright difficult. I talked about many of the reasons why in a previous Search Engine Land article about navigating B2B keyword strategy. Erik-Jan Bulthuis had a great post on Joost de Valk's site in which he also describes some of the challenges and proposes a good approach to B2B keyword research. Your goal is this first step is not to make keyword choices or judgments, but rather to create the gross list, being as inclusive as possible of the potential terms actual prospects might use.
Focus on generic keywords; don't get caught up in proprietary brand lingo. Think of the types of products and services you sell. What are your revenue streams? What do customers and prospects call things? Will their search string express the product/service sought, the problem they're experiencing, or the type of company potentially offering solutions? Does geography play a role in the search string?
2. Determine relative popularity
Once you've created the gross list of potential keywords, you need to determine the relative popularity of those search terms. Often paid search keyword research tools (such as Google's Traffic Estimator) won't have data because traffic for these terms is low. In some cases, there will be data, but it will show very low activity. That's okay. Don't pay too much attention to that. Rather, use tools like Keyword Discovery to determine relative historical popularity of your keywords. This will give you some idea of which search terms are used more often than others on your list. The actual raw number of searches for a given search term really doesn't matter much.
When you're doing this work, remember to enter the root word(s) or root phrase, letting your research tool return permutations and long-tail options. Not only will this give you a larger list to consider, but the results will often lead you down a path you hadn't previously considered.
3. Make your draft picks
Now determine for which search terms your site will be optimized. In B2B keyword research, usually there will not be clear-cut winners. Instead, for each B2B product or service, there will be one or two relevant search terms that rank highly, three to five more that place as strong "seconds", and a host of others that have good potential.
As you're evaluating relative popularity of the search terms related to each product or service, remember to look at the whole list, including long-tail strings with lower search volume. Sure, these strings may not yield much traffic, but they may represent a more likely buyer or one closer to making a purchase decision.
4. Find a home for them
When you've fully reviewed things and made your selections, often, you'll wind up selecting three or more search terms for the same product or service-and these terms will be sufficiently different from one another that you won't be able to have a single web page serve as the landing page for all three terms. In fact, you may need many pages, one for each term.
In some cases, having three different product pages essentially taking about the same thing may be okay (as long as it isn't seen as duplicate content.) In other cases, it may look strange both to site visitors and from a useability standpoint. If so, here's where you need to get creative. You need to find a home for these "extra" search terms. Where else can these landing pages go on your site? In other words, where else on your site can you create a credible landing page that is going to respond well to organic search for the given term?
Thankfully, on B2B sites there often are (or can be) some other good alternatives to product pages. Can a case study page act as the landing page for the search term? What about a white paper page? A page in the Knowledge Center or thought leadership section of your site? What about in the news section? A blog posting? There are lots of options.
Obviously the way you handle a search term in the copy of a product section will be different than how you might handle the same term in a case study. And that's okay. Actually, it will force you not to create duplicate content. The important part is that you have sufficient landing pages for the desired search terms.
5. Link it up
Once you've identified a home (i.e., a channel or section of your site) for each landing page, you need to work these pages into your navigation. Some of these pages might be directly accessible through your site's primary navigation. Some may be in the sub-navigation of a given section, while others may only be accessible through text links in the body copy of a page. Keep the landing pages for the most popular search terms closest to the home page, the least amount of clicks possible to get to the landing page. Landing pages related to less popular, more obscure, or long-tail search terms can reside deeper in your site.
Finally, make sure you have intra-site linking between related search terms. If there are three landing pages for a given product-say a product page, a case study page, and a blog posting-make sure that the site visitor can easily get from her landing page to the other related pages. In other words, if your site visitor land on the case study page, make sure you have a link there to get to the related page in the product section of your site.
If you follow these steps, you'll create a site that has sufficient landing pages for each of your desired search terms, and your content will be organized into a logical, user-friendly architecture that responds well to organic search.
All this assumes you can write good B2B SEO copy that's also persuasive to the site visitor. But that's the subject of another article.
Galen De Young is Managing Director of Francis SEO, a Michigan firm specializing in B2B search engine optimization. Francis SEO is a division of Francis Marketing, one of the leading marketing consulting firms specializing in repositioning B2B companies and their brands. You can reach Galen at email@example.com. The Strictly Business column appears Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.